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The Independent Online
Having eaten too much, drunk too much, and become a lounge lizard over the festive season, what most of us need is a long country walk. The problem is, the British - and in particular the English - tend to live in towns. Fortunately, there is a community forest within three miles of nearly 24 million people in England; a dozen community forests now cover an area more than 12 times that of the Isle of Wight.

The Countryside Commission and Forestry Commission are developing community forests as part of a plan to create opportunities for millions of people to enjoy wooded countryside around towns and cities. For those condemned to urban life, a walk in the woods need not entail a Brysonesque expedition.

Combining woods, farmland, villages, leisure enterprises, nature areas and public open space, the forests serve as "green lungs" for urban areas as well as much-appreciated bolt-holes for stressed-out city folk. With many miles of new or restored pathways and cycleways within the forests, there is also plenty of opportunity to get back to nature and get rid of Christmas flab.

Those who fancy being active in a different way can get involved in tree- planting schemes. Watling Chase community forest, in the London borough of Barnet, has recently planted 6,000 new trees with the help local volunteers and around 500 schoolchildren.

Such greenery obviously provides valuable habitats for local wildlife. It's not exactly a safari, but Andrew Patterson, project director at Watling Chase, points out that increasing native trees within their forest is attracting crested newts, skylarks and stag beetles - all species that have recently been showing a worrying decline.

For information about a community forest near you, contact your local tourist office.

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